You've probably heard about MRSA skin infections. The good news is that serious MRSA infections are rare, and most infections can be treated easily. So what is MRSA and how can you protect yourself?
MRSA stands for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. Staphylococcus aureus is a type of bacteria with lots of different strains.
Many strains of staph bacteria are quite common. Most people have staph bacteria living on their skin or in their noses without causing any problems. If staph bacteria get into a person's body through a cut, scrape, or rash, they can cause minor skin infections. Most of these heal on their own if a person keeps the wound clean and bandaged. Sometimes doctors prescribe antibiotics to treat more stubborn staph infections.
What makes the MRSA different from other staph bacteria is that it has built up a resistance to the antibiotics doctors usually use to treat staph infections. (Methicillin is a type of antibiotic, which is why the strain is called "methicillin-resistant.")
MRSA skin infections often develop around open sores, like cuts, scrapes, or bites; but they also can occur on intact skin. Red, swollen, painful bumps appear that sometimes weep fluid or pus. Some people also develop a fever.
In the past, MRSA usually affected people with weakened immune systems, like people living in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.
But now some otherwise healthy people who are not considered at risk for MRSA are getting the infection. Doctors call this type of infection community-associated MRSA (CA-MRSA) because it affects people outside of hospitals and nursing homes. People at greater risk for becoming infected with this germ are those who spend a lot of time together in groups, such as in schools, college dorms, or military barracks.
When lots of people come together and are likely to touch the same surfaces, have skin-to-skin contact, or share equipment that has not been cleaned, an infection can spread faster than it would otherwise. If the MRSA bacteria get onto a kneepad, for example, and someone with a skinned knee wears the pad without cleaning it, that person's risk of infection is higher.
MRSA is contagious while there is a skin infection. Sometimes, people can be "carriers" of MRSA (meaning the bacteria stay on or in their body) for days, weeks, or even years. They can spread it to others, even if they have no symptoms. That's why things like hand washing are so important.
The bacterial changes that lead to resistance can be caused by improper usage of antibiotics, such as:
The good news is that MRSA infections are rare in teens. And if a healthy person does get one, a doctor can treat it.
MRSA may sound scary because it is resistant to some antibiotics. But it's actually easy to prevent MRSA from spreading by practicing simple cleanliness.
Protect yourself by taking these steps:
MRSA infections can require different medications and approaches to treatment than other staph infections. For example, if a person has a skin abscess caused by MRSA, the doctor is more likely to have to drain the pus from the abscess in order to clear the infection.
In addition to draining the area, doctors may prescribe antibiotics for some people with MRSA infections. In a few cases, MRSA can spread throughout the body and cause problems like blood and joint infections — although complications like these are very rare in healthy people.
People with infections can also help prevent other bacteria from becoming resistant to antibiotics in the future by taking the antibiotics that have been prescribed for them in the full amount until the prescription is finished (unless a doctor tells them it's OK to stop early). Germs that are allowed to hang around after incomplete treatment of an infection are more likely to become resistant to antibiotics.
Call the doctor if:
Serious cases of MRSA are still rare. By taking these easy prevention steps, you can help keep it that way!
Reviewed by: Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD
Date reviewed: August 2011
|Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) The mission of the CDC is to promote health and quality of life by preventing and controlling disease, injury, and disability. Call: (800) CDC-INFO|
|American Academy of Dermatology Provides up-to-date information on the treatment and management of disorders of the skin, hair, and nails.|
|Cellulitis Cellulitis is a skin infection that involves areas of tissue just below the skin's surface. It can affect any part of the body, but it's most common on exposed areas, such as the face, arms, or lower legs.|
|Cuts, Scratches, and Scrapes Most small cuts, scrapes, or abrasions heal on their own. Here are tips for teens on how to treat cuts at home - and when to get medical help.|
|Understanding Medications and What They Do Medicines can cure, stop, or prevent disease; ease symptoms; or help in the diagnosis of certain illnesses. This article describes different types of medications and offers tips on taking them.|
|Hand Washing Did you know that the most important thing you can do to keep from getting sick is to wash your hands? If you don't wash your hands frequently, you can pick up germs from other sources and then infect yourself.|
|Why Should I Care About Germs? Germs are tiny organisms that can cause disease - and they're so small that they can creep into your system without you noticing. Find out how to protect yourself.|
|Staph Infections Staph bacteria can live harmlessly on many skin surfaces. But the bacteria can get into wounds and cause an infection. Get the details in this article for teens.|
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